You probably saw in my past videos that I sometimes use smoke grenades in my photography.
I made a couple of shots with different colors in one of my latest fitness shoots... I posted the behind-the-scenes last week if you missed that one, check it out.
It took me some time to test these smoke grenades, but I think that I have gathered enough knowledge now and it is time for me to share it with you! So if you wish to use smoke grenades on your next shoot, whatever it is, please consider the following 5 tips. Some are direct answers to questions I have received over the past weeks!
1/ Safety first
These things get hot, they stink, and when you fire them sparks randomly fly out! So be careful, pull the wire and keep the grenade away from your face, use gloves or if you don't have gloves hold it from one end or put the grenade on the floor.
2/ Plan ahead or rehearse
You have only 30 to 90 seconds of smoke. Depending on the thickness you desire and coverage you even have less than that, so there is little to no room for improvisation. These little things in Europe cost from 5 to roughly 12 euros, depending on where you buy them and the type it can be more. So playing with these ain't cheap! You usually need for a few good shots 3 to 6 grenades and I do sometimes use up to 9 depending on the result I want to have.
3/ Use them outdoors or in open spaces
In a forest, in an abandoned place, on a secluded island (if you have one)... If you plan on doing this in an urban setting, you have to get the proper authorization. In France, you must ask the local authorities for permission to use them in the city... Don't do this illegally if you don't want to get in trouble. Even if it's colored smoke, people around might think there is something wrong going on and will call the police... and trust me, you don't want that!
Also, be sure to check the weather, you have to have little to no wind on your day of the shoot to make your shots.
Dancer: Liza Riabinina Captured in Antibes ( France) Canon 5d mark III - 70-200mm F2.8L II 1/400s at f5.6 ISO200 - 70mm
4/ Camera settings
Shallow depth of field or not? Shutter speed?
This is up to you! I usually want details in the smoke so I use an F-stop above 5.6 and a shutter speed that isn't too slow. That suits my style in general, you have to test this for yourself to decide exactly what you like.
Athlete: Ophélie Ferrand Captured in Toulouse ( France) Canon 5d mark III - 24 - 70mm F2.8L II 1/200s at f7.1 ISO100 - 44mm
5/ Focus before firing
If possible, lock your focus before you let the smoke get in your shot. Because once the smoke is all around your model, your camera is going to struggle to find focus on your subject.
For the picture down below I had to work handheld, so I used the AI SERVO mode of my camera to keep focus while she was moving.
Athlete: Ornella Nicolosi Captured in Antibes ( France) Canon 5d mark III - 24 - 70mm F2.8L II 1/640s at f6.3 ISO250 - 44mm
6/ Flash or no Flash
Did I say 5 tips? ok, let's add a 6th!
You can use strobes to make that smoke pop and give it more texture. The technique is not revolutionary you just make sure that your smoke is trapped in between your strobes. Backlighting also works great! You can of course work in natural light but the effect and mood are not the same... so you are going to have to choose for yourself depending on what you wish to capture.
Down below feat. Karita Tikka with only one Flash:
...and Here with 2 Strobes
Athlete: Ophélie Ferrand Captured in Toulouse ( France) Canon 5d mark III - 24 - 70mm F2.8L II 1/200s at f7.1 ISO100 - 70mm
Another Bonus tip?
A ton of photographers have used smoke grenades in the past, and usually, I see models walking around holding the grenade in their hands waving it around. On the few images found on the web, the smoke was really thin or not covering a lot of the scene. If you wish to make epic photos if you wish to have thick smoke covering most of your frame, then here is how I do it:
Use a wide-angle lens and lock your camera on a tripod.
Think about your composition beforehand, place your model and choose the pose you wish to capture.
Place your lights do a few test shots and once everything is set from pose to lighting lock your focus.
Now, and only now use your smoke and take multiple shots...
Have someone else manipulate the smoke grenade and have them move around to cover as much space as they can.
Once you are done, once you nailed it, take all your files and open them inside Photoshop, choose the photo where the smoke is covering most of your scene and fill the empty spots with other pictures you took during your session.
Of course, the idea is to get everything on camera with only one shot... But the chances for this to happen here are slim. For tighter portraits, it is, of course, easier. You will quickly see that you do not have control over your smoke and that it will almost do whatever it wants. The wider you will shoot the harder it will be for you to get it right in one picture...
Athlete: Kevin Captured in Antibes ( France) Canon 5d mark III - 70 - 200mm F2.8L II 1/640s at f5.6 ISO320 - 200mm
I insist, I really wanted to have that thickness, that coverage and that's one of the solutions I found to make it work.
I've played with smoke machines in the past, with mixed results, I tried digital smoke ( BEHIND the scenes Woman basketball )and I will certainly test other methods and tools... but this will be the topic of a future video.
Have you ever considered using colored smoke in your photography, and if you have already used them somehow, how did you do it? Tell me in the comments below!